Putting Our Best Field Forward

Greetings, Revs fans! Hope you are all gathered around the hot stove as winter bears down upon us. Since the last Revolution game on September 16, 2018, we have been busy making improvements to PeoplesBank Park. I hope you have heard of the exciting renovation of the skybox level, creating the 1741 Club presented by UPMC and constructing new group rental space on the first base skybox level we have named the Solomon and Monarch Suites. Today, I wanted to share with you the progress we have made on the playing surface at PeoplesBank Park.

The field was originally installed in May 2007 and consisted of 100% sand-based Kentucky Blue Grass that was grown at the Tuckahoe Turf Farm in Hammonton, New Jersey. Tuckahoe provides grass for playing surfaces all over the East Coast, from the homes of the Phillies and Red Sox to your own Revolution. PeoplesBank Park’s sod grows on 8 to 12 inches underlain by the same depth of gravel. When the field was new, water would drain through the grass with amazing speed.

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Fast forward to 12 years later. Over time, impurities had made their way into the playing surface, turning a field that was once 100% Kentucky Blue Grass into a surface that was a mix of blue grass, rye, and invasive species such as poa grass. In addition, last year we endured the second wettest year on record in York. This precipitation exposed the subsurface drainage problems that had accumulated over the years. If you saw the condition of the infield and foul territory in the second half of the season, you witnessed a field in dire need of renovation. Over time, the organic layer of the soil profile increases at the surface. This is due to the buildup of debris, such as grass clippings, wind-blown dust, and soil treatments for the infield “skin,” such as conditioner, speedi dry, and clay. When the organic layer builds up to a depth of several inches, not only is drainage severely impacted but the top layer acts as an incubator for diseases such as pithium. All of these factors were evident on our field in the latter half of 2018.

In deciding to make the investment in improving the playing surface, we decided that we would do everything in our power to address the underlying problems before placing the icing on the cake, so to speak, with the new Kentucky Blue Grass from Tuckahoe.

The first step was to eliminate any invasive species from the outfield through a series of chemical treatments. We then used deep-core aeration to lessen the compaction on the outfield. After the cores were removed from the field, we seeded with perennial rye grass and top dressed with sand. This process will be repeated in the spring before we open for the 2019 season. The aeration and sand placement will greatly improve drainage of the outfield, improve the effectiveness of treatments and fertilizers, and improve the health of the grasses in the outfield. To spur the growth of the new seed, we covered the majority of the outfield with turf blankets, which act as a greenhouse for grass during the winter months.

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We then addressed the subsurface drainage system on the perimeter of the playing surface. We called upon the York Excavating Company to complete that project. Since the original construction of the playing surface, we had known that the warning track never drained as well as it should have. Our first groundskeeper, Brandon Putman, installed drainage lines on the perimeter of the warning track to try to improve that drainage. Over time, a large amount of warning track material washed into the subsurface drainage line, effectively clogging it up, and the result was standing water on the track after a significant rain. In addition, the subsurface beneath the maroon-colored warning track was discovered not to be ideal for drainage, which is what created this issue from the start. York Excavating replaced the 8” perforated drain line around the entire perimeter of the field and backfilled with gravel to the depth of the warning track material. We also tied the 4” drainage lines that run under the playing surface into the larger drainage line. And it apparently worked. In the limited amount of rain we have received this fall, it appears that the installation of this new drainage line has made a great improvement.

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As a side note to this drainage discussion, in more than one location on the field we noticed that the depth to bedrock is extremely shallow, as is the water table. When PeoplesBank Park was constructed, some bedrock was removed on the first base side of the stadium, and a natural spring was discovered. The shallow depth of the water table makes sense given the elevation of the field below street level and the proximity of the Codorus Creek. Therefore, without a well-functioning subsurface drainage system, it is easy to see how problems may arise.

The final and most dramatic improvement to the playing surface was the replacement of all the sod in the infield, foul territory, an arc on the back edge of the infield, and along both foul lines.  This project was conducted by Hummer Turfgrass Systems of Manheim, PA. Hummer has installed playing surfaces from the Philadelphia Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field to Penn State’s Beaver Stadium. The first step was removing the organic layer at the surface, which can be seen on the time-lapse video.

Once the dark layer was removed, Hummer incorporated fresh sand into the subsurface profile and tilled that into the existing layer. Using laser-guided precision equipment, Hummer then set the levels of the sand and the infield skin, making sure those levels match up to produce true bounces on ground balls. After all of this prep work was done, Hummer could then lay down the new Kentucky Blue Grass and set the edges of the warning track and infield dirt. Lastly, Hummer laser-graded the infield skin to provide a level dirt surface for infielders and base runners.

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The combination of all of these actions will produce a greatly improved playing surface for players and fans alike. This work was necessary as the life span of a playing surface is usually 10 to 12 years. In addition, with York hosting the 2019 Atlantic League All Star Game, the Revolution can now present to our fans and to players and executives around the league a major-league caliber playing surface.

This was probably far more detail than you asked for or wanted regarding the field! But this knowledge gives you an understanding of the difficult job our head groundskeeper is presented with in maintaining the best playing surface possible. So when you’re rooting for the Revolution this season, throw a couple of cheers toward the team keeping that new field in top shape.

-John Gibson, General Manager and Vice President of Operations

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